Americans will always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else. That sentiment, incorrectly attributed to Winston Churchill, succinctly describes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today. Now that Pelosi has backed into the decision to finally undertake impeachment proceedings against this lawless menace of a president, whose reckless and self-serving behavior forced her hand, we have before us — at long last — a reckoning of sorts.
By his own admission, Donald Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to interfere in the 2020 presidential election by way of an official investigation into the son of the Democratic frontrunner. By his own admission, Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine while that nation fights an insurgency in southeast Ukraine, claiming he did so either because of corruption or the lack of European burden-sharing, depending on which day he was asked. Trump has blocked the release to Congress or anyone else of a whistleblower report that was filed in distress regarding his conduct with Ukraine.
The request by Trump for Zelensky to initiate an investigation of Biden was further confirmed on Wednesday after the White House released a summary transcript of the July 25 conversation. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son,” Trump is quoted as saying, “that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.” Later in the conversation, Trump says, “I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out.” Ongoing updates and analysis of the summary transcript can be found here.
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This portrait is painted in vivid primary colors, with no shades, hues or shadows, making it of a piece with Trump’s flagrantly extralegal administration to date. Nothing whatsoever about this moment in history comes as a surprise, save perhaps for the fact that it is actually, finally, upon us.
After a long run of dreary days that have seen this president obstruct justice on multiple occasions, cage children in concentration camps, enrich himself with public money, reveal classified information to foreign officials, lie in public more than 12,000 times, embrace white supremacists, put a bullseye on the backs of journalists both at home and abroad, and make stark racism the hood ornament of his domestic policy, Speaker Pelosi has finally been forced into conceding that the “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” Rubicon has been crossed.
That constitutional metric, a holdover from the British parliamentary system, does not have to include explicitly criminal behavior, though it would certainly seem to in this case. “The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men,” wrote Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper No. 65, “or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”
As impeachment is a political act, and as the politics of the 21st century are as rotten as a basket of old, sun-baked eggs, the process has been messy right out of the gate.
The White House is set to run the same game plan that served it so well during the Mueller inquiry, offering to release a redacted version of the whistleblower report. This will come, of course, with a full-court press in the media denouncing Democrats as socialist sore losers. Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is slated to testify regarding these matters on Thursday, and testimony from the actual whistleblower is being negotiated.
In the House, the issue is far more straightforward. Once Speaker Pelosi compiles the 218 House votes needed to pass articles of impeachment, which she will, the process will belong to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans, who have made it clear that they believe the effort is already doomed.
But is it? At present, the two-thirds threshold required for an impeachment conviction in the Senate is well out of reach, yet the nation will spend the next several weeks hearing in detailed fashion about Trump’s egregious lawbreaking. There are 23 Republican senators who will be running for re-election in the bright light of impeachment proceedings, and 20 Republican “yes” votes will be needed to reach the 67 required to remove this president from office.
It is a stretch, to be sure, but not an impossible one. The flood of Trump-motivated Republican retirements from the House, combined with Trump’s low poll numbers and abysmal popularity, make this president a bad bet for any senators who believe they have a future in politics. They have gotten by so far in the Senate by dint of majority control, and because Trump’s Justice Department is as corrupt as he is, but the rubber has now met the road.
Being an unyielding Trump partisan was always a bad bet in the long run and will become positively hazardous as this process unfolds, if for no other reason than Trump is Trump: He will not be able to contain his baser instincts now any more than he has in the past. It would come as no surprise if Trump commits more crimes to try and get out from under the crimes he has already committed.
In the end, this is happening because it absolutely had to happen. Considerations regarding what the Senate will or will not do are moot, because impeachment in the face of Trump’s serial violations is a constitutional necessity.
Allowing Trump’s behavior to stand unchallenged — no matter the ultimate outcome of that challenge — would set fire to the rule of law and render the country down to a mere marketplace for plunder and violence. If we aspire to be more than that, and I devoutly believe we do, we must undertake this process with patience and unyielding diligence.
And it was the left — progressives, activists, “the base,” the provocateurs and occupiers, the ones who “don’t understand politics,” the ones those in power always listen to last when it matters most, the ones who got it right on Iraq, Vietnam before that, the climate crisis and so much else — who got it right on the necessity of impeaching this president.
Speaker Pelosi was compelled to act only after the so-called “moderates” in her caucus stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb, to cadge a line from Dr. Strangelove. That sudden transformation came after those “moderates” saw yet another example of Trump’s lawlessness, looked to their left, and said, “Gosh, I guess they were on to something after all.”
The first line of Donald Trump’s obituary has already been written: He joins Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who have faced impeachment. Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted in the Senate, while Nixon resigned before the process could get fully underway. This will, of course, not sit well with the lumpen neofascists who populate Trump’s base. They will rage as they identify with the fundraising email Trump’s campaign sent out immediately after the impeachment inquiry was announced.
“The Democrats thrive on silencing and intimidating his supporters, like YOU, Friend,” it read. “They want to take YOUR VOTE away. President Trump wants to know who stood with him when it mattered most.” The fact that Trump is already fundraising off this mess tells us where we stand.
We are questing strange and dangerous waters now, and the outcome is anyone’s guess, but we are here because we have to be. The actions of this president can no longer be endured. Let his Republican enablers stand with him in broad daylight and proclaim their fealty to his capricious whim. Let them sit astride the wrecking ball as it swings toward the crumbling edifice of their own shattered morality.